Jesus dies. And takes our sin with him.

by K.W. Leslie, 10 April 2020

Mark 15.33-39, Matthew 27.45-54, Luke 23.44-48, John 19.28-37.

Around noon on 3 April 33, it got dark, and stayed that way till Jesus died. Obviously God was behind it, but we don’t know how. No solar eclipses in that part of the world, that time of year, so that’s out. Volcanoes have been known to darken the sky. So has weather. Regardless of how he pulled it off, God decided he wanted his Son’s death to happen in the dark.

As he was hanging on the cross, various folks were taunting him, and Matthew describes the head priests, scribes, and elders even taunting him with a bit of Psalm 22:

Matthew 27.43 KWL
He follows God? God has to rescue him now, if he wants him—for he said ‘I’m God’s son.’ ”
Psalm 22.8 LXX (KWL)
He hopes for the Lord, who has to release him,
who has to save him because he wants him.

Considering this psalm was so obviously getting fulfilled by Jesus’s death, taunting him with it just showed how far the Judean leaders’ unbelief went. They really didn’t think the psalm applied to Jesus any. It absolutely did.

That is why, round the ninth hour after sunrise (roughly 2:30 PM) Jesus shouted out the first line of that psalm: Elo’í Elo’í, lamá azavtáni/“My God my God, for what reason do you abandon me?” Ps 22.1 I know; it sounds different after the gospels’ authors converted it to Greek characters.

Problem is, by that point the scribes seem to have left, ’cause nobody understood a word he said. Jesus was quoting the original Hebrew, but only scribes knew Hebrew; the Judeans spoke Aramaic, and the Romans spoke Greek. And since Eloí sounded a little like Eliyáhu/“Elijah,” that’s the conclusion they leapt to: He was calling for Elijah. So they added that to their mocking. “Wait; let’s see whether Elijah rescues him.”

In our day Christians have leapt to a different conclusion—a heretic one. They might know Jesus was quoting scripture, but think he quoted it ’cause the Father literally, just then, did abandon him.

Seriously. Here’s the theory. When the lights went out, this was the point when Jesus became the world’s scapegoat: The sins of the entire world were laid on his head, Lv 16.20-22 so that when he died, our sin died too. Which is possible; the scapegoat idea is one of many theories about how atonement works. But the scriptures never indicate when such a transfer was made. The world going dark just feels like a good, dramatic time for such an event to happen.

Here’s when it goes wonky. After the sin-transfer was made to the scapegoat, someone was supposed to turn this goat loose in the wilderness to die. But since Jesus was literally nailed to the spot, he could hardly wander off… so the Father removed himself. Other Christians insist it’s because the Father finds sin so offensive, he couldn’t bear to watch. So he dimmed the lights (as if God can’t see in the dark) and turned his face away from his beloved, but defiled, Son.

Here’s why it’s heresy: God is One. You can’t separate the Son from the Father. They’re one being, not two. The trinity is indivisible.

The rest of us humans are separate beings from the Father—yet Paul stated nothing can separate us from his love. Ro 8.38-39 So if that’s the case, how in creation could anything, even sin, separate God the Son from God the Father?

Nope; not gonna work. There’s no biblical basis for the idea either. Just a lot of Christians who hate sin, who kinda like the idea God hating it so much he’d leave… so don’t you sin, or God’ll quit on you. It’s a great way to scare the dickens out of sinners.

But if it were that easy to drive God away, you’d think the devil’s work would’ve driven God entirely off the planet. Ironically I find a lot of Calvinists, folks fond of insisting nothing’s mightier than God, likewise teaching the idea that the Father turned his face away from his innocent Son—instead of meeting the defeated enemy of sin head-on.

I could rant on, but I’ll step away from the bad theology and quote what the gospels did say happened when the lights went out.

Mark 15.33-39 KWL
33 When the sixth hour since sunrise—noon—came,
darkness came over all the land till the ninth hour.
34 At the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, Elahí Elahí, lamaná šavaqtáni?
which is translated, “My God my God, for what reason have you left me behind?” Ps 22.1
35 Some of the bystanders who heard it said, “Look: He calls Elijah.”
36 One of the runners, filling a sponge of vinegar, putting it on a reed, gave Jesus a drink,
saying, “Let’s see if Elijah comes to take him.”
37 Jesus, giving out a loud cry, expired.
38 The temple veil split in two, from top down.
39 The centurion standing across from Jesus, seeing how he expired,
said, “Truly this person is God’s son.”
Matthew 27.45-54 KWL
45 From the sixth hour since sunrise—noon—
darkness came over all the land until the ninth hour.
46 Around the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, Elí Elí, lamáh azavettáni?
That is, “My God my God, why did you leave me behind?” Ps 22.1
47 Some of the bystanders who heard it said this: “This man calls Elijah.”
48 One runner quickly left them: Taking a sponge full of vinegar, putting it on a reed, he gave Jesus a drink.
49 The others said, “Let’s see if Elijah comes, and will save him.”
50 Jesus, again calling out in a loud cry, gave up his spirit.
51 Look, the temple veil split from top down in two. The earth shook. The rocks split.
52 Tombs opened, and many bodies of “sleeping” saints were raised.
53 Coming out of the tombs after Jesus’s rising, they went into the holy city.
They were seen by many.
54 The centurion and those guarding Jesus with him, seeing the earthquake and what happened,
greatly feared, saying, “Truly this person is God’s son.”
Luke 23.44-48 KWL
44 Now it was about the sixth hour after sunrise, and it became dark over the whole land till the ninth hour.
45 The sun failed to appear. The temple veil split in the middle.
46 Jesus, calling in a loud voice, said, “Father, I set my spirit into your hands.”
Saying this, he expired.
47 The centurion, seeing what happened, glorified God, saying, “This person is indeed righteous.”
48 All the assembled crowd, at this sight, seeing what happened, went back beating their chests.
John 19.28-37 KWL
28 After this Jesus, knowing everything was now finished,
said to fulfill the scripture, “I thirst.”
29 A full jar of vinegar was sitting there.
So a sponge full of vinegar, with hyssop put on it, was brought to Jesus’s mouth.
30 When he tasted the vinegar, Jesus said, “It’s finished.”
He bent his head and handed over his spirit.
31 So the Judeans, since it’s Preparation Friday, lest bodies stay on the cross on Sabbath
(for this Sabbath was a great day), asked Pilate
so their legs might be broken, and they taken away.
32 So the soldiers came and broke the legs of the first man, and the other crucified with him.
33 Coming over to Jesus, they saw he’d died already. They didn’t break his legs.
34 Instead one soldier stabbed Jesus’s side with his spear.
Blood and water quickly came out.
35 The one who witnessed it testifies: It’s a true testimony.
This man knows he tells the truth, so you can also believe.
36 For this happened so the scripture might be fulfilled: “They won’t break his bones.”
37 Again, another scripture says, “They’ll see to whom they stabbed.”

I dealt with the vinegar elsewhere.

Aftershocks from his death.

Depending on the gospel, various things happen as a product of Jesus’s death.

Temple veil bisected. Mk 15.38 Mt 27.51 Lk 23.45
Earthquake, rocks split. Mt 27.51
Dead coming out of their graves. Mt 27.52-53
Centurion impressed. Mk 15.39 Mt 27.54 Lk 23.47
Soldiers didn’t break his legs, but speared him. Jn 19.31-37

The temple veil separated the Holy Place from the Holiest Place, the back room of the temple where the Ark of the Covenant would be kept if it were still around. Christians like to point out it was a mighty thick curtain, and therefore impossible for some random person to rip. True. But it was centuries old, and a strong earthquake might snap its curtain-rod and tear it top-to-bottom, just as the gospels describe. Regardless of how God did it, its point—all barriers between God and us have been removed through Jesus’s death—is entirely valid.

There are a few apocryphal New Testament gospels which claim after Jesus died, a few of the zombies revived saints testified to the Judean senate that they’d seen Jesus break into hell, step on the devil’s neck, and release a bunch of Old Testament saints. Entertaining stories, but way too many historical and scriptural inaccuracies for them to be anything but Christian fanfiction.

Apparently a centurion (if not his entire century) was supervising the crosses, and his response to how Jesus died was either “He sure seemed a good guy,” or “Holy crap, it’s the son of God!” We have no idea what this centurion’s religion was, and if he was your typical Greco-Roman pagan, he believed the gods had lots of sons. (The Roman senate had even declared Caesar Augustus one of them.) So his “son of God” comment might’ve meant the very same thing Luke describes him saying: Jesus seemed a good guy. Then again, who knows?—all sorts of unexpected people turn out to be listening to the Holy Spirit.

In John the aftermath is a lot less miraculous. The Pharisees couldn’t abide crucifixion victims striving to breathe on Sabbath; it counts as work. So they petitioned the Romans to “humanely” dispatch them, with enough time so they could stick ’em in a tomb, then go get baptized, before Sabbath began at nightfall. (On 3 April, that’d be 6PM.) Hence the Romans “humanely” broke their shins, making it impossible for them to hoist themselves up to breathe. Suffocation happened in minutes.

Since Jesus was already dead, a soldier poked him with a spear, and out came blood and water. I’ve heard Christians claim this proves Jesus died, not of suffocation, but a ruptured—make that “broken”—heart. It comes from Dr. William Stroud’s 1847 book, A Treatise on the Physical Cause of the Death of Christ. The idea of a broken heart sure sounds impressive, but more recent physicians prefer the idea of cardiovascular collapse: That’d most likely produce the clear pericardial fluid (“water”) the spear brought forth.

Though not as miraculous, it did fulfill two verses. One about not breaking the bones of a Passover lamb Ex 12.46, Nu 9.12 —that, or about the LORD protecting the bones of the righteous. Ps 34.20 That, and something the LORD said through Zechariah where they’ll “look at me”—speaking of himself—“whom they pierced; and mourn for him like one mourns for an only son.” Zc 12.10 Odd phrasing, but sure fits Jesus’s circumstances.

And, in the next station, Joseph and Nicodemus took Jesus off his cross and put him in Joseph’s sepulcher—expecting, a year later, to go back in, gather his bones, and stick ’em in a casket. Not expecting, two days later, for Jesus to come out on his own. But to be fair, nobody else expected that either.